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"Rape Speech and Rape Consequences"

Kelly Agra | 19 August 2022

Speaking publicly as a survivor is still a risky proposition. One risks professional credibility, relationship strain, and social disapproval, not to mention micro-aggressions from idiots who are ignorant about the nature of rape. One also risks infecting oneself with the sort of ‘stain’ that tracks you for life. Just as I will always remember the kid who threw up all over his desk in the fourth grade, we remember who tells us they were raped.” (Alcoff 2018, 176)

About over two decades ago, someone related to me survived an acquaintance rape. The perpetrator—now dead, shot by someone, somewhere—was her former student. She was, before the incident, working for the Church and a catechist. She was schooled under the Church’s auspices to become a nun, and almost became one if she did not meet the person who later became her husband. She used to lead-sing in masses, which made her quite popular among folks in our little town; but she also had a very warm personality and an open and joyful countenance. I thought that this made her very accepting and trustful of people. I have reasons to believe, that she was dearly loved.

But coins flipped and just overnight, the rest of her life changed. On the day before the Christmas evening masses or Simbang Gabi were to begin, she needed to go to Manila to purchase guitars for the Church. On the night of her trip, she was sexually harassed. Overnight, she went from being dearly loved to being the talk of the town in the most displeasing way. Even kids of the age of nine or ten, would gossip about her saying that they have heard their parents or some elderly referring to her as a prostitute (not a sex worker, but prostitute in the derogatory use of the word; or a flirt, but this term has meanings that are different from being sexually active outside the rules of monogamous marriage). In our language, she was being called, “puta”.

Because of the incident, she consequently lost her marriage, was separated from her family, discontinued working for the Church, and to a certain degree, lost her home. Her husband, who was working abroad when it all happened, believed in her, possibly the only one at the time whose faith in her really mattered, but he was later-on unable bear the moral weight of the incident, as well as the degree of scandal and intensity of the social pressure surrounding their relationship. They eventually separated. Meanwhile, because the family and the community—soaking in patriarchal and religious values and giving so much valence to social reputation—did not have the emotional, psychological, epistemic, social, even legal resources and support that will help them comprehend, analyse, litigate, or face up to acquaintance rape incidents, the consequence was what Linda Martín Alcoff refers to in her book Rape and Resistance (2018), a “second rape” (177). Second rape refers to the negative consequences of speaking out. In the case of this particular survivor, she was blamed for what happened, and because her only possible witness, could not take the witness stand for personal reasons, she was not able to file legal action against her perpetrator and was then forced into silence.

“Manipulators are aware that it is difficult to express a preemptive distrust of people in your circles, or men you work with. ” (8)

“Part of the manipulation […] is to displace causal agency and deflect blame: the old story of blaming women for going into the room, or the car, or the woods for a walk, as if these choices were tantamount to consent.” (8)

The bus travel time from our town to Manila during those years was about 13-16 hours. The survivor and her friend (the only witness who could have testified) had an arrangement to go to Manila together. The friend had to call-off the arrangement last minute however, as some of her relatives were also going to Manila and so she decided to ride with them instead. The survivor meanwhile didn’t mind taking the bus on her own as she knew that she will still be meeting her friend later-on anyway.

On the day of the trip, she went to the bus station early since she wanted to be in the front seat (there are no seating reservations that time). She boarded the bus and left her bag on one of the front seats to indicate that the seat was taken. Since she still had some time, she got off again and went to a nearby salon to get mani-pedi. Everything else were okay, until she returned to the bus and found her seat taken and her bag nowhere to be found. She asked the bus driver who then responded that ‘person X’ (her perpetrator) moved it. She then saw him almost at the rear end of the bus, and so she walked towards him and asked why he moved her bag. She tried to get her bag and move away, but the guy then grabbed her arm. At this stage, the bus was already full and the only seat available was the seat next to him. She also then ran out of time to request other passengers to switch seats with her as the bus was then leaving. In my interview with her, she told me that she was already nervous and scared at this point, because she knew that the guy has taken a liking of her, since he had a history of offering gifts to her in the past even as a student. Out of fear of scandal and to avoid further delay and complication, she let the matter go and she sat next to him—anxiously hoping that her former student would not do anything to her.

The trip went ahead and the bus reached the station in Manila at around 1AM. Since it is still very early in the morning, the survivor decided to wait there until sunrise. As time went by, the rest of the other passengers have left the station except for her perpetrator. After a while, he approached and asked her where she is going. She replied that she is in Manila to buy a few guitars for the Christmas evening masses. Being the manipulator that he is, her perpetrator then told her that he knew a shop that sells good and inexpensive Lumanog guitars. The survivor was still very cautious of him, but she was quite keen on getting good quality guitars for a lower price. Furthermore, given that they were the only ones left at the station then and because it is in the middle of the night, she feared that she might get robbed or something worse if she stays there alone. So she entertained his offer of help. To the survivor’s mind, at least she knows him.

After getting her to agree to the plan, the perpetrator then told her that he first needs to go to his sister’s place to have a shower and get changed before going to the shop. Since in principle, there was nothing wrong about that, she trusted him and rode the cab with him. Thinking that they were going to his sister’s place and given that she did not really know the city that well, she did not pass on any suspicion until they suddenly had to get off—not in front of a house but in front of a hotel. Mad and panicking, the survivor then started to interrogate him why they are there. He responded that they will stay there first because it is still very early in the morning and he doesn’t want to wake his sister up. Being un-innocent about the matter, the survivor was also already pleading to him at this point not to do anything to her, asking him to respect her, to think that she has a husband and kids, and asking him to think of what he would feel if he were the husband and something would happen to his wife. Still unfazed by these, she told him that she will never like him or turn to him even if she gets separated from her husband due to whatever that will happen. Despite all the questioning and pleading of the survivor, the perpetrator checked them in and went ahead to have his shower. At this stage, the survivor was already thinking of escaping but she did not have enough time to plan her move as she also did not know where to go and was afraid that something might also happen to her if she wanders about the city at that time of the night. Before she could even do anything, the perpetrator finished his shower and afterwards forced himself on her. She gave all her might to resist, that she actually incurred bruises as well, but he overpowered her.

The compilation of the complexities of the situation is very easy to recognize here. The intersectionality of the forces that inhibited her—not wanting to make a scene on the bus, her lack of familiarity with the city, the time of the night when the incident happened, that she was traveling alone, that she was physically weaker than her perpetrator, her desire to get a good deal for the guitars—these factors and more, paralysed her. At some stage of the interview, the survivor even remarked that given how she was not able to fight him off, that she was not able to escape, or prevent it all from happening, it looked as though she just allowed her perpetrator do what he wanted, which is of course not the case. In our conversation, she kept stressing that she was bruised everywhere, and that the friend she was supposed to travel with saw the bruises the morning after when they were finally able to meet. However, even if she was not bruised at all, even if victims or survivors have nothing to ‘show’ for their victimisation, or as Alcoff notes, even if they have been pleasured by rape, even if it was committed by someone they know—their husbands, partners, friends, uncles, parents, grandparents, neighbours, professors, colleagues, students, supervisors—and, even if they originally consented but later on feel that they no longer want the sex—NONE of these make the act any LESS than a rape. That it is an infringement of our sexual subjectivity, or “our capacity for having sexual agency in our lives” (111) is what makes it count as a sexual violation, and if this involves penetration of any orifice, it counts as rape. Until now, even after so many years have passed, I can still notice the survivor’s speech pragmatics of trying very hard to convince her listener that she resisted and did not want it to happen. It was as though she has been habituated to an audience who will not believe her, and will try to disprove, if not turn the blame on her.

Silence is enforced by threats of retaliation as well as the realistic expectation that one’s act will be met with skepticism even by one’s closest family and friend, and also by the realization that telling will result in new humiliations. As a result, most victims carry the burden of their memories and their trauma as a kind of hidden agony for months, years, or for decades…” (180)

That morning after the incident, the survivor, still shaken but determined to purchase the guitars—which to me was her way of holding herself together—proceeded with her task. Her perpetrator, being the obsessed stalker that he was, followed her around. After purchasing the guitars, the survivor met with her friend, whom the perpetrator telephoned because the survivor is now completely ignoring him. She told her friend what happened. Upon seeing the perpetrator, the friend angrily shoved him away, she swore at him, called him a pig, pushed him, shamed him; but he refused to leave. It was as though there was nothing in the world that would make him separate himself from the survivor. This was the case all the way through the bus ride home; and even days and months after the incident. He kept following her. Having this in view, it should not be a surprise how the perpetrator knew about the survivor’s travel to Manila. He was always stalking her.

When she got home, she tried to act as normal as she could, and no other soul knew about what happened except her, the perpetrator, her friend, and the local priest to whom she confessed after her return. For a good few days, it remained a secret until one day she was confronted by her in-laws about an anonymous letter that they have received. In this letter, the perpetrator was claiming that he has an affair with the survivor, that they were going out, and they even went to a hotel. Wanting to know the truth about the matter, the survivor’s parents-in-law then interrogated her.

I remember the afternoon that confrontation took place. I was still a little child, and I was told not to get out of my room because the elders will be talking about something important. To me, it felt like ages. I was very intrigued and confused but I was also worried about what was going on because normally, elders don’t mind if you’re around and they chat because they think you do not understand anything they say. In this instance, it was different. Me and my cousins knew that there were things that we were not allowed to hear or witness at all.

Because the rape happened in a hotel, or perhaps because she did not say anything about it or did not report it, or because it was not a case of stranger rape, or because she did not scream and cried for help, ran away, or called the police when it happened, or because during the interrogation, she said that after struggling, in the end she just let him do what he wanted, the survivor’s father-in-law interpreted the incident as wilful on her part. She accused her of being a sexual maniac and said all sorts of unimaginable things to her. As though to say that she would have not been raped if she did not want it. Sadly, this has been a typical response being given to survivors. Victims speaking out tend to suffer from a “reverse empiricism” (47) with regards to their experiences and claims of rape. As Alcoff writes, “We generally accord empirical credibility to those with direct, first-person experience, but in the case of sexual violence, those with direct experience of the problem are given a credibility deficit” (48). When this happens, she warns that we tend to overlook the likelihood that: “those who have not been victims of sexual violence […] may be affected by denial, avoidance, a vested interest to downplay issues that demand they take action, or that they are simply uninformed about the nature and subtle signs of the problem” (49).

The survivor locked herself in her room for days to almost a week, barely eating and drinking. She was crying every single day. I can still remember the smell and darkness of that room. It was the smell and sight of brokenness, desolation, and despair. I remember her saying so many times that she wanted to end her life, but she was thinking of what will happen to her children. She blamed God and questioned her faith for what happened. “Why did He not protect her and why did it have to happen while she was doing something in His service?

In the early pages of Rape and Resistance, Alcoff recounts the case of another acquaintance rape survivor, Sarita, in Tricia Rose’s book Longing to Tell: Black Women Talk about Sexuality and Intimacy (2003): One night, “he got her [Sarita] alone by offering to teach her some drumming techniques, and then created a situation in which, out of fear and pressure, ‘she just let him have sex with me [her]’” (8). The seeming similarity between Sarita and the woman whose story I am recounting here is that they were both manipulated to the extent that they would even think that they allowed their rapes to happen. It is currently more difficult to litigate rape cases like this because of the presumptive disauthorization of victims not only in courts but in public discourse. It is on account of these that activists and survivors have introduced the term “gray rape” (9). The term is meant to alert epistemic agents of the complexity of rape and of the tendency to police victims’ speeches rather than their rapists (21).

“…there is less of a policing of rape than of rape victims’ speech.” (21)

“…it should be no wonder that a positive experience of speaking out, in which one is taken seriously and afforded credibility, can be incredibly liberatory” (180).

Many people who learned about the story urged the survivor to file for a case, to speak publicly, to fight for herself and her children. But because of her trauma not only of sexual violation, but also of excessive scepticism, she endured her struggle in silence and stopped caring about what else others think. She told me that for her, her silence was her form of resistance, and that she knew that someday, the truth will come out. She further said that whether she stays at home or not, whether she meets new people or not, whether she does anything at all or not, and whether she speaks or not, people will talk, and they will always talk negatively; there is no point in trying to change their minds if they are not open to changing them.

What made things more complicated, if not suspicious in the eyes of the public and definitely her husband’s and husband’s family, was when the survivor welcomed the support and protection of another man who use to frequent her neighbourhood and whom she developed friendship and trusted her story with. As was noted, the survivor’s husband was working abroad during this time. He was able to come home through an emergency leave, shortly after being notified by his parents that there is an emergency with his wife. But he had to return abroad after a couple of weeks as he also needed to keep his job for the family. With her stalker-rapist still lurking around, the survivor felt vulnerable again after her husband returned abroad. This perhaps is what made her more receptive of people who could offer her safety. She welcomed the friendship of the other man whom she thought could protect her. However, since it was a heterosexual friendship, this was interpreted maliciously again. This new controversy is what eventually separated the couple. Unable to handle and process what was going on, her husband would write in his letters how much everything is paining him and serves as an attack to his being a man. They continued exchanging letters but it reached the point where the survivor eventually asked for her freedom from their marriage. From then on, she developed a relationship with the new guy, but which she eventually cut off after an opportunity for her to work abroad arose.

Apart from the harms of second rape, Alcoff also raises the red flag against the warping, editing, and sensationalizing of sexual violation by an unlistening public that does not help survivors, as well as does nothing in making us better understand the nature of rape, what it means to our sexual formations, and what kind of society protects rapists and disempower victims and survivors—perhaps even forcing victims towards directions they would otherwise not take. She stresses how these are the core contributors to the pre-emptive silencing of victims thus furthering their oppression. But just as she reminds us of our responsibilities with regard to the formation of discursive conditions surrounding sexual violation, she also reminds us that we need to remove pressure towards victims in both directions. Pressuring victims to protect themselves by not speaking because the conditions of speech involves a lot of costs such as “flashbacks, the relationship-fall out, the panic attacks, the loss of credibility, and safety” (43), or pressuring victims to speak publicly because it is through silence that “both trauma and hubris of perpetrators flourished” (179), BOTH take agency away from the victims (43). “What would be optimal”, Alcoff writes, is when “speaking publicly would be up to the survivor” (43).

One can interpret that in the case of the survivor in this story, speaking about the incident as such was not the difficult part—she was able to wilfully recount it to her friend, the local priest, also to members of the Couples for Christ in their town, and to the guy she eventually had relationship with. What was difficult however was telling it to an audience whose immediate disposition is to question her credibility, honesty, and even honor as a woman. I am using her story as a take-off point for our future discussion on rape and resistance, not only because this story is very close to my heart, but because I take it as one of the paradigm cases of intersectionally sustained oppression. Her being a woman is central here, but you can also discern the economic and religious factors that shaped and conditioned the way her story was received, repackaged, or even dismissed, and more importantly so, how these factors made the sexual violation even possible. In addition, I want to emphasise, through this story, Alcoff’s point that both sexual violation and the epistemic injustice that survivors go through go hand-in-hand. There is a whole epistemic situation that reproduces rape:

When a community blames rather than protects victims of sexual violation, it disempowers victims from speaking out and reporting violators. When victims are not empowered to speak and report, this gives license to perpetrators, would-be or otherwise, to continue or pursue their harassment and abuse of others. When perpetrators run free and victims forced into silence and hiding, we develop a rape culture.

Fast forward to two decades after, the survivor and her former husband are now living fully independent lives, had new partners, and each had a child in their new relationships. Their children grew up well and are leading decent lives. The survivor, having been able to reclaim her life, agency, and autonomy, albeit through years of struggle, is now back to her warm and jovial self. She reconciled with her in-laws and is now residing in the same town after having tried to move to different places through the years. She survived.

By way of closing this short piece and of teasing you to attend our Bluestocking Session 4, it is perhaps also important to note that for Alcoff, it is misleading to say that rape only affects its victims and survivors. As she suggests in the book, everyone closely related to victims and survivors may very well be part of those who would be directly affected by the consequences of rape. The friend who could have served as a witness for the legal prosecution of the perpetrator, refused to stand as a witness because she also had matters and people to protect from the ruinous attention of the public, but she will always have this etched in her memory. The survivor’s husband who was working alone and abroad and did not have the resources and support to deal with the situation also had to decide between saving his marriage or the future of his children. The children, who perhaps have inherited their own versions of intergenerational trauma, also had to realize early on the impermanence of home, the precarity of their economic standing, and as kids, their heavy reliance on the compassion and help of their relatives, friends, mentors, and acquaintances. The survivor’s parents, siblings, and in-laws, however much they may have played in the bettering or worsening of the situation, also later-on had to help look after the survivor’s children just so they could be given the chance to be raised in a relatively stable home.

These and so much more are the subject of analysis and reflection of Alcoff’s immensely revealing and relieving book: Rape and Resistance. I invite you to share your emotions and thoughts with the BTG team, on our session on September 17 (Saturday). If time is scarce, I highly recommend focusing on Chapter 6: Speaking “as” (in addition to the Introduction) in order to get into the crux of Alcoff’s proposal for a new epistemology of rape that not only aims at transforming the conditions of speech around sexual violation, but the kinds of social values, practices, and will-formation surrounding our sexual subjectivities. The brilliance of this monograph is that it is both an epistemological and political work. I find this book as a gift to us by Linda—having survived rape herself, you get to arrive, through her words, at the hope that philosophy can be redirected towards addressing matters in our social and discursive landscape that have not only been epistemically and politically difficult, but emotionally painful to confront. Another recommendation is to watch her lecture in London in January 2020 entitled: “Speaking as a Survivor”.

Dr. Linda Martín Alcoff is a Professor of Philosophy at Hunter College and the Graduate Center, of the City University of New York (CUNY). She is a past president of the American Philosophical Association. Her areas of work include epistemology, Latin American philosophy, feminism, critical race theory and continental philosophy.

Her recent books include Rape and Resistance (Polity 2018); The Future of Whiteness (Polity 2015); Visible Identities: Race, Gender and the Self (Oxford 2006), which won the Frantz Fanon Award. She has also edited or co-edited 11 books, including The Routledge Companion to the Philosophy of Race, (2018); Feminist Epistemologies (1993); Singing in the Fire: Tales of Women in Philosophy (2003); Thinking From the Underside of History (Rowman & Littlefield, 2000); Identity Politics Reconsidered (2006); and Constructing the Nation: A Race and Nationalism Reader (2009). She has written over 100 journal articles and book chapters, and has contributed to The New York Times, Aeon, the NY Indypendent, and other publications. She is originally from Panama.

Bio copied from her Hunter College Webpage:

Other relevant links:

Personal Website:

Yours in resistance,

Kelly Agra

University College Dublin, &

University of the Philippines Baguio

P.S. This story was written and published with the permission of the survivor, who, after over two decades of silence, is now gradually encouraged to share her story of rape and resistance to the public.



Hi, thanks for stopping by!

My research falls at the intersection of Critical Social Theory and Social Epistemology, but with specific attention to Decolonial and Feminist Critique. In my work, I develop the concepts of "(Mis)education" and "Epistemic Paralysis".

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